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Some owners, who have approached banks for loans to renovate their cinemas, have had their requests declined and were told there was no hope for the cinema business (ANI)
Some owners, who have approached banks for loans to renovate their cinemas, have had their requests declined and were told there was no hope for the cinema business (ANI)

Curtains for 2,000 small movie halls

  • Trade experts say independently owned single screens see no hope in clinging on to the business
  • Pressure is on states that depend majorly on Hindi cinema to run their business, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh

Around 1,500-2,000 cinema screens across India could shut shop permanently over the next few weeks as the content pipeline remains starved of new offerings, especially from Bollywood, which is not keen to release any new films till people begin to step out and return to theatres.

Trade experts say independently owned single screens see no hope in clinging on to the business, when film-makers and top actors, who owe much of their fame and stardom to small-towns, have taken over 24 Hindi films directly to video streaming platforms over the past few months. Moreover, most audiences in metros and urban areas have been wary of stepping out owing to the surge in infections.

Bad news has already started to trickle in. Last week, five single screen cinemas in Hyderabad—Galaxy, Sri Rama, Shanti, Amba and Sree Mayuri—closed down.

Mint had earlier reported that nearly 45% of India’s movie screens chose to not reopen even after government permits came in early October thanks to absence of fresh content and mounting costs on sanitization and disinfecting.

The two big Bollywood offerings, ready for release, Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and sports drama ’83, have both been slated for the first half of 2021 for now.

“Film-makers don’t realize there will hardly be any cinema left until then to play their films, so they will not be able to reap any result on these big titles that they’re holding back," Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan said adding that only 45 out of the 200 theatres in Bihar have restarted operations since government permits came in but many are planning to shut shop permanently. About five firms have already sold their properties.

“They have every right to, considering there is no value to be seen in the business," said Chauhan who is also thinking of moving on. Some owners, who have approached banks for loans to renovate their cinemas, have had their requests declined and were told there was no hope for the cinema business.

India has 9,527 movie screens as of 2019 according to the Ficci media and entertainment report 2020, including 6,327 single screens and 3,200 multiplexes.

Independent distributor and exhibitor Akshaye Rathi admitted a lot of cinemas had already shut shop with their incomes down to zero. “No visibility of content relevant to the demographics and psychographics of these regions would drive the nail deeper," Rathi said referring to recent titles like Laxmii that were taken directly to video streaming with unimpressive results but would have done superbly well with small-town audiences who have no access to these OTT platforms and would have taken to such massy, commercial fare easily.

“A single screen property can cost up to Rs50 crore. How long can you hold on it especially when you weren’t making much even before covid?" Chauhan said referring to Bollywood’s increasing alienation of small-town audiences and its tendency to appeal more to urban, multiplex goers with films like Article 15, Gully Boy and others.

Given that the Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Bengali language industries are coming to the rescue of cinemas with new offerings such as Quota, Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban, Act 1978, Yuvarathnaa, Solo Brathuke So Better, Pratidwandi, and Kakababur Protyabortan, Chauhan said the pressure is on states that depend majorly on Hindi cinema to run their business, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.

“While one can understand the scepticism regarding the potential loss of business, a big film can suffer if it releases “too early", someone has to simply take the plunge for the larger good of the industry. Otherwise, the case for smaller theatres to permanently shut down will become stronger by the week. And that damage may last years, not months," Shailesh Kapoor, founder and chief executive officer of media consulting firm Ormax, wrote in a blog earlier this month.

“Inaction can be worse than imperfect action," he added.

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